The Diamond Dogs began SEC East play against division-leading South Carolina on Friday night. The Palmetto State Poultry arrived in Athens pitching well but hitting poorly. Much as Willie Martinez’s defense made Stephen Garcia look like an elite quarterback last fall, so too did Georgia’s underachieving pitching staff allow the visitors’ bats to heat up in an 11-4 outcome.
The first two frames were uneventful, as neither team carded a hit and the only baserunner in either inning was Whit Merrifield, who drew a leadoff walk in the top of the opening canto. The Gamecocks got going in the visitors’ half of the third stanza, starting with a leadoff walk drawn by Bobby Haney. After Justin Grimm plunked Scott Wingo, a wild pitch allowed both baserunners to advance. Merrifield again drew a base on balls to put three aboard for Jackie Bradley, Jr.
The South Carolina center fielder also walked, forcing home the go-ahead run, and, after Jeffery Jones popped up, Nick Ebert drove a double to left field, plating a pair of runs. An Adrian Morales single scored another, and, after Adam Matthews walked, Kyle Enders batted in two additional runs with a base hit. The next two Gamecock batters registered outs to close the curtain on the visitors’ three-hit, six-run inning.
Georgia responded in the bottom of the frame. Chase Davidson led off with a walk, Brett DeLoach sent a single into left field, and Johnathan Taylor dropped a one-out base hit into center field to score a run. Peter Verdin plated another with a groundout to short. Despite a leadoff double and a one-out walk, the Palmetto State Poultry did not score in the top of the fourth canto, but the Classic City Canines crept closer on the scoreboard with a Kyle Farmer solo home run in the home half of the stanza.
Matthews responded with a leadoff homer in the top of the fifth frame, while the Red and Black went three up and three down in their turn at the plate. South Carolina led off the ensuing inning with another home run, as Merrifield’s solo shot in the upper half of the sixth stanza padded the Gamecocks’ lead, and Bradley’s ensuing single forced Grimm from the mound. Steve Esmonde was sent in from the bullpen, and the Georgia reliever gave up a base hit to Jones, a run-scoring sacrifice fly to Ebert, a single to Morales, and a run-scoring groundout to Matthews before extracting the final out from Enders.
No Bulldog made it out of the batter’s box in the bottom of the canto. A leadoff single by Haney went to waste in the visitors’ half of the seventh inning, while Christian Glisson’s one-out base hit and DeLoach’s two-out base hit in the lower half of the frame paid off on a Todd Hankins RBI double. After Alex McRee secured the first two outs in the top of the eighth stanza, he surrendered a single, issued a pair of walks, allowed two stolen bases, and threw three wild pitches, which combined to allow a run to score.
A one-out Levi Hyams single went to waste in the home half of the inning, as did a two-out Bradley base hit in the top of the ninth canto. The home team’s final turn at the plate offered a modicum of drama, as DeLoach and Robert Shipman registered back-to-back two-out singles, but Taylor grounded out to strand both baserunners.
There’s no way to make this one look good. While there is no dishonor in falling to the best team in the Eastern Division, there is considerable shame in surrendering twelve hits and eleven runs to a team that arrived at Foley Field on Friday sporting the SEC’s second-worst team batting average. At .291, the Gamecocks were hitting worse than any other club in the conference except Georgia (.285).
The Palmetto State Poultry have been winning with pitching, and Blake Cooper ran his record to 8-0 by striking out nine, walking one, and conceding just four earned runs in eight innings’ worth of work. Even so, the Athenians ought to have been in pretty good shape with nine hits, but six South Carolina batters batted in at least one run and seven Gamecock hitters drew at least one walk. When you concede six runs in one stanza to a team that earlier in the week scored four runs in a game against USC-Upstate, you’re in trouble.
What’s more, the curse of perfection once again dogged the Classic City Canines. Georgia is now 0-10 in games in which the Red and Black do not commit an error. To top it all off, the Gamecock women’s tennis team upset the Bulldog lady netters on Friday, as well. Ladies and gentlemen, the downward spiral of Georgia athletics may have reached the point at which our sports programs are looking up at South Carolina’s. This is bad, people.